Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Forum gave a first look

The dozens of political candidates who took turns on stage at Monday evening's Hometown! Political Action Committee played it cool and polite in making their pitches.

About the only moment that could perhaps fall under the label of attack mode came when Catherine Vogel -- without naming State Attorney Dennis Ward -- said she would pit her 27 years of "putting away bad guys" up against the "20 months" her opponent had before landing the job.

Between the huge turnout of candidates and the well-behaved audience gathered at Salute restaurant at Higgs Beach, Hometown! PAC leaders declared it a successful night.

"We didn't have to ask anyone to be quiet," Chairman Todd German told the crowd of about 300 at Monday evening's candidate forum.

For Florida Keys voters, it was the first opportunity to see in person the candidates who are four months away from a primary election, which will decide some races.

School Board candidates in District 2 and District 3 promised change and tougher fiscal management -- easy enough since of the nine, only one has ever been on the board, 20-year incumbent Andy Griffiths.

Still, the toughest language against this popular target was borrowed from a Jimmy Buffett song.

"The School Board raised enough money to buy Miami and pissed it all away," said Larry Murray, who is running for the District 3 School Board seat and was wearing a T-shirt that read "Dr. Larry," reminding the crowd that he has a doctorate in history.

Murray, not asked back for a second term on the Audit and Finance Committee after telling the district's top finance man to "kiss my a--," described the School District's last few years as "a half-million-dollar screwup for this, and a half-million screwup for that."

With incumbent Duncan Mathewson bowing out, voters in the Aug. 14 primary have at least five candidates on the ballot: Murray, Michael Cunningham, Ed Davidson, Mark Peterson and John Welsh.

On Monday, political critic and blogger Sloan Bashinsky announced he would join the District 3 pack, although he hasn't filed paperwork with the elections supervisor.

"The only way to fix the School District is to turn it into a charter school district, turn it over to a private company to run or turn it over to the state," Bashinsky said.

In the District 2 race, which until Friday had Griffiths unopposed, the ballot now has three candidates, with Howard Hubbard and Yvette Mira-Talbott signed up to run against the incumbent. Neither Hubbard nor Mira-Talbott mentioned Griffiths in their brief microphone time. Mira-Talbott merely said she was a graduate of Florida State University and that these are tough times for the district.

"Put the children first, it's that simple," Mira-Talbott said.

"I have a record I'm proud of," Griffiths said. "Through thick and thin I've had a steady hand on the tiller."

While the School District doesn't have much money right now, Griffiths said that in October 2015, it becomes debt-free -- except for the $38 million federal stimulus loan owed for the Horace O'Bryant School.

"That is $1 million a month," Griffiths said of the expected income.

"Morale is low right now but we have to give them hope," said Griffiths. "Property values will stabilize."

Hometown! PAC saved the county sheriff's race for last, with Col. Rick Ramsay drawing the loudest cheers of the night from his entourage of colleagues and supporters.

Ramsay, the crew-cut-wearing second in command at the Sheriff's Office, has the blessing of his boss, retiring Sheriff Bob Peryam, and $91,000 in his campaign account -- which on Monday towered over all 40-plus candidates in comparison.

The closest in fundraising were County Judge Wayne Miller, with $52,000 in his unopposed race for re-election, and School Board candidate Mark Peterson, a retired attorney who loaned himself $50,000.

Ramsay is facing two candidates in the Republican primary: Sgt. Jake Brady of Marathon, a 23-year sheriff's veteran; and State Attorney's Office investigator Edwin "Bill" Grove.

Grove, without mentioning Ramsay by name, noted the $91,000 in campaign cash.

"Don't let the elite of the Sheriff's Office choose your next sheriff," said Grove, who criticized the office as being bloated with "21 employees who make $100,000 a year," and having added four administrative positions recently to the tune of $350,000.

Ramsay, in a post-forum interview, said Grove has his facts wrong.

"We didn't add four administrators," said Ramsay, who added that Grove's assertion that 21 employees make six figures is off, too, although he couldn't give the exact number off the top of his head Monday.

Ramsay said his opponents just aren't qualified to take over the sheriff's helm.

"It would be like going from a private to a general," he said. "I am a colonel."

On the Democratic primary ticket for sheriff, voters may consider Deputy Matt Koval, who has patrolled the Keys since 1987, and 24-year sheriff's employee Tom Peteck in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary.

Even candidates who have no competition -- six of the 14 races in Monroe County remain unopposed -- showed up to give a two-minute version of their stump speeches, sticking to the Hometown! PAC format.

County Commissioner Heather Carruthers, the Democrat seeking a second term in the District 3 seat, said the county has a lower budget, fewer taxes, and an easier-to-navigate website thanks in part to her tenure.

"I was instrumental in getting Eaton Street refinished," Carruthers said, adding that she sponsored an "anti-tethering" ordinance that outlaws the continuous chaining-up of dogs and other pets.

"To protect our furry friends," Carruthers said.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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